For various reasons I’ve been off work for a while and that has meant being off blogging as well. If you’ve commented on posts recently then thanks; if you’ve emailed my gmail account and still would like a reply then maybe try again.
Anyway, what better way to resume making the occasional post here than a film about the place where I did some of my first ever fieldwork: assessing the then-proposed Site Z dam site on the Stikine River in Tahltan territory, far Northwestern British Columbia, in the shadow of Mt. Edziza. Edziza is well known to Northwest Archaeologists as one of the region’s most important sources of obsidian, a volcanic glass highly suitable for making certain kinds of stone tools.
The video, Edziza: Life from Ash and Ice, can be watched in full on the B.C. Knowledge Network’s web site. (NB: I had to change the resolution from a default of “lousy”). Obviously the geology of the Edziza Complex is pretty cool (and is covered in the first half of the video, which features John Clague among others), but there’s quite a bit of more direct archaeological interest in the second half.
The main archaeological interest starts at about 30:45 of the film, with a great sequence showing a mountainside interview with the Tahltan Nation’s Hotseta Oscar Dennis, who explains the origin of the name Edziza (pronounced by him something like E-dees-DAH) and some of the ritual knowledge necessary to approach and ascend the mountain for the purposes of obsidian gathering. He then demonstrates his obsidian flaking techniques, noting the connection he feels when he realizes his own debitage will be left there for another 10,000 years or more.
Around 36:30 there is a segment interviewing Wade Davis (now at UBC), then at about 39:45 we have another archaeological segment featuring Dr. Rudy Reimer / Yumks of SFU, who discusses the use of X-Ray Fluorescence analysis to determine the sources and distributions of obsidian in the archaeological record. By being able to say that an artifact found in, say, the Salish Sea, is made of Obsidian from Edziza then we can say that either that artifact, or the raw material, was moved by people the length of the Province. Accumulating multiple such sourced artifacts can give great insight into social networks of the past. Anyway, Rudy does a great job of explaining XRF, while communing with a lump of obsidian the size of a small asteroid. There’s a nice cameo from SFU archaeology student Jordan Handley as well. Of course, Reimer and Handley are following the lead of Dr. Knut Fladmark, whose 1985 book Glass and Ice brought the mountain into the heart of the BC Archaeological imagination. If you have institutional access, you’ll probably be interested in this 2015 article by Rudy which encapsulates and advances our current knowledge of archaeological uses of Mt. Edziza obsidian. Reimer, Rudy, Reassessing the role of Mount Edziza obsidian in northwestern North America, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 2, June 2015, Pages 418–26, doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.04.003 (currently this article is open-access but that could change I suppose.)
If you watched the Wade Davis segment, you might have noted it as a bit of a love-letter to obsidian. Who doesn’t love things that glint? And certainly it’s an exotic and very useful raw material that is also amenable to certain archaeological analyses. People seem to have sought it out early – apparently it made it to islands in the Alaska Panhandle at the PET-408 (On-Your-Knees Cave) site by around 10,000 years ago, and I’ve heard Millennia Research has possible Clovis-era bifacial preforms made from it in the Williston Lakes reservoir/upper Peace River area.. I sometimes think we fetishize obsidian a little though. It’s not the be-all to end-all for all stone tool manufacture: it might be too brittle, or too rare, or come in too-small pieces, for many tasks. Other toolstones, like rhyolites and fine-grained volcanics, may have equally interesting stories to tell – and don’t even get me started on ground stone technology. Not to take the shine off obsidian of course, but it might be a good time to extend those few studies which have looked at the geochemistry and distribution of other materials as well.
Anyway, this is a good video that takes a holistic look at Mt. Edziza. It contains a lot of wonderful scenery of the area as well as of the actual quarry sites on the flanks of the mountain. If you’re a teacher of NW Archaeology then the latter section of the movie might well be useful to show in class. Another couple of interesting links might be this well-written short article featuring UVIC’s own Dr. Darcy Mathews; this short, impressive video of some higher elevations on Edziza, and this trailer for what seems to be an interesting film recently completed about the mountain.
A final note: since this blog has been dormant it could be we’re down to the core 11 readers again. If you’d care to share it on social media that would help with getting the word out there’s going to be occasional posts again going forward – thanks.